Let’s Discuss — On the Beach by Nevil Shute

 “It’s going to go on spreading down here, southwards, till it gets to us?”

 “That’s what they say.” 

[…] 

“Can’t anything be done to stop it?” 

He shook his head. “Not a thing. It’s the winds. It’s mighty difficult to dodge what’s carried on the wind. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to take what’s coming to you, and make the best of it.” (39)

It’s the end of world.

But the end is not instant. It’s gradual…yet still relatively quick—between six to nine months.

So what do you do? Maybe it depends on your job, your family, your faith…your view of death.

Maybe it depends on how you go out…let’s say radioactive poisoning?

Yeah, that’s it. Radioactive poisoning carried by the winds to your neighborhoods, to your doorstep, through the cracks of your window screens, in the water you drink and in the air you breathe while you sleep.

That’s how you’ll get. And there isn’t a thing you can do about it…Or is there?

“Nausea,” the chemist said. “That’s the first symptom. Then vomiting, and diarrhea. Bloody stools.  All the symptoms increase in intensity…Finally death occurs from sheer exhaustion.” He paused. “In the very end, infection or leukemia may be the actual cause of death. The blood-forming tissues are destroyed, you see, by the loss of body salts in the fluids. It might go one way or the other.” (150)

Radioactive poisoning.  It’s the end of the world.

Will you choose a decent death?

On the Beach is a realistically fictionalized post apocalyptic account of how men live out the remainder of their lives. It essentially asks, if this were to happen (a third world war initiated and ended by the atom bomb) then how would go out? Not if you go out, but how. How would you like to go out?

What I love about this book is despite the scenario, the potential to be a melodramatic undertaking, it’s a non-dramatic, thought-provoking story.

War mongering countries in the northern hemisphere exacerbated tensions between what were Russia and China of the future. The two countries were competing to be top-tier first-world countries, but they each had something the other needed. Russia needed China’s ports, specifically Shanghai, which would serve a geopolitical advantage. And China needed Russia’s land because its overpopulation was problematic for future development. China had no allies except Russia, so Russia was free to act against them, and so began nuclear warfare. A warfare where there was no “winner.” It was not a viable action , and it only led to more reactions. The end result was the decimation of the entire northern hemisphere, via impact of bombs or poisoning of the population. The only remaining survivors are those south of the equator, but even they will pass on eventually. Wind cannot be stopped.

However, winds carrying the poison will reach Australia and the South Pacific last.  And this is where readers will follow the last weeks of the survivors. American, Dwight Towers,  and Australians; Moira Davidson, and Peter and Mary Holmes are the central characters. It’s interesting to see how they cope with their fate. What’s remarkable is how unremarkable they live out the last months. They re-purpose things that soon won’t serve any purpose or engage in busy work. For example, Mary Holmes is obsessed with gardening. She plants seeds and imagines blossoms she will never see, harvests she will never reap. Just cultivating her own garden….it reminds me of the ending of Voltaire’s Candide. Sometimes there is talk of who’s to blame for all that happened, or questions about legacy: how do we tell the history of what led up to the end? which books do we seal away in the tallest mountain? how do we preserve our small piece of civilization? But all these questions are superseded by a bigger one:

What’s the point?

When the end draws near they all make the important decision. Readers will decide if death was decent.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. See, to me that’s good writing. Taking subject matter that practically begs for melodrama and having the talent to avoid it.

    1. Yes. I agree. And there were so many times when the story could have easily taken a turn and been cliche. Easily one of my favorite reads for the year thus far.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s